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Hult Prize Finalists Gear Up For Social Entrepreneurs' Showdown

Social entrepreneurs from leading business schools will compete in the Hult Prize final this week – with the chance to win $1 million in seed capital.

Mon Sep 22 2014

Students from business schools including ESADE and HEC Paris are in line to bank $1 million in seed capital for their social enterprise businesses in the Hult Prize final this week.

The start-ups, launched by business school and university students, are trying to tackle some of the world’s most pressing healthcare issues in one of the world’s biggest student competitions.

Backed by former US president Bill Clinton, the Hult Prize Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps accelerate the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Its competition, which received 11,000 applications this year, has involved 600 business schools since it was launched in 2009.

The six finalist teams have been working in the organization’s accelerator through July and August. The six-week program was hosted by Hult International Business School.

The teams are from the US’s University of Pennsylvania, York University and MIT, European schools HEC and ESADE, and the Indian School of Business (ISB).

This year’s competition tasked entrants with developing sustainable and scalable social enterprises to address the impact of non-communicable disease (NCD) on poor urban populations.

NCD will cost low and middle-income economies $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years, according to the Hult Prize Foundation.

HEC’s entrants Bee Healthy, who won the London regional finals, have developed a disease detection system for under-privileged people. The team uses bees´ olfactory system to detect diabetes, cancer and tuberculosis on a person’s breath.

Finalists from Spanish business school ESADE, who won Dubai's regional final, provide slums with affordable eyeglasses. Their start-up, Harambee, allows slum-dwellers to manufacture frames or become “micro-entrepreneurs” within their communities.

Boston’s finalists from the University of Pennsylvania are hoping to take a bite out of oral care. Their campaign, Sweet Bites, provides a xylitol gum which is clinically proven to stop the progression of tooth decay – which increases the risk of heart disease – which will be distributed by locals and NGOs.

The team have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which has raised about $16,500 since July 29, surpassing the original target of $15,000.

The other US finalists, from MIT, enter the final after winning the San Francisco regional finals. Their business, WiCare, has created a medical device that uses negative pressure wound therapy – a revolutionary technology that can heal acute and chronic wounds – that is low-cost.

ISB entered the final stages of the competition after winning the Sao Paulo regional finals, in Brazil. The students’ start-up concept, NanoHealth, aims to solve the problems of under-diagnosis and poor treatment.

NanoHealth will create a network of health workers who will be equipped with a diagnostic tool – a “Dox-in-Box” – which can risk-profile patients for diabetes and hypertension.  

By incorporating doctors and pharmacies into its network, the business hopes to become a one-stop-shop for all health services related to chronic disease.

Finally, Shanghai regional winners from York University’s Schulich School of Business have developed start-up REACH. The business distributes glucose urinalysis strips through local salespeople in developing areas. These strips are used as a screening tool to identify diabetics, and are also used to help diabetics monitor their glucose levels.

The six finalist teams will pitch their ideas to the former US president and a judging panel which includes Fadi Ghandour, the founder of logistics solutions company Aramex, in New York on Tuesday.

Kelsey Julius, a member of HEC’s Bee Healthy team, told BusinessBecause that she was not expecting to win the final.

“We were in disbelief when we won the regional round. When we had a minute to calm down, we realized we had this amazing opportunity, and we have to do our best to make it happen,” said Kelsey.

“We’re not looking at it is as competition, but as an opportunity to implement something that will help,” she added. “It’s more genuine than going after the money… Just being passionate about it is our take.”

Last year’s Hult Prize winning start-up Aspire was founded by a team of five MBA students from Canada’s McGill University. Since winning the competition, Toronto-based Aspire has grown to attract support from private entities, and has expanded its team with employees, volunteers and researchers.